Stories in Entrepreneurship

Rodney Hess

Owners, GrowlerGrips

Rodney Hess.jpg

Rodney Hess is the founder of Growler Grips, a company that makes products that attach to growlers to improve and customize the growlers. Their products include the GrowlerGasket, the GrowlerGrasp, and Growler Medallions. At GrowlerGrips they believe you should get more from your pour. Their patent-pending products are created as a direct result of our love for craft beer. They have spent countless hours designing, refining and manufacturing these unique innovations and accessories. They are based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and locally source as many components as possible. Rodney is an Army veteran, a graduate of Lampeter-Strasburg, and has worked at RR Donnelley & Sons for 36 years.

How did you become an entrepreneur?

My wife and I work 12 days in a row. On the Saturday after working the 12 days we would treat ourselves to going down to Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, Pa. about an hour drive.

We would grab lunch and fill our six German style growlers with beer. This would allow us to have great beer for the next two weeks as we worked. One Saturday it was late in the afternoon and there were about twenty growlers to be filled. We asked the barmaid “which ones were ours” as they all looked alike. Her answer was “not really sure”. Well, that was unacceptable. We always took care of our growlers and wanted to make sure we received our growler…not someone else’s. So I started thinking of a way to personalize your growler so you know you will get yours back from the fill station.

I invented a handle that would replace the standard handle of the German growler with interchangeable medallions for personalization. We started selling our GrowlerGrips handle at brew fests on March 7th, 2015 and the response was great. I quickly realized that for every one of the German style growler’s there were 30-40 of the American jug style growler.

I had to come up with a way to incorporate the interchangeable medallion to replace the screw cap that comes with the growler. Through my R&D I discovered that the engineering of this style of screw cap was flawed. They did not seal very well and mold and fungus grew on the caps. Your beer would go flat in 24-36 hours. I knew if I wanted people to purchase my screw cap with the interchangeable medallions I would have to have my cap seal as good as the flip top style. After 1 year the patent-pending GrowlerGasket was produced and brought to the public on August 27, 2016. This GrowlerGasket keep beer fresh for weeks in your unopened growler. It is 100% airtight.

What is your vision for the future of your company? Of your community?

We were only making the GrowlerGasket from aluminum on a CNC lathe. Our sales were limited to retail only. The price point was too high for wholesaling. We knew to grow our company we needed to find a less expensive way to produce them. After 10 months we have just started manufacturing an injection molded ABS GrowlerGasket that allows us to accomplish this. We are selling these to breweries, brewpubs, Bottle Shops and stores that fill growlers. We will design a medallion for each company if they want to so it will serve as a branding opportunity as well. Our long-term is to license with collegiate and professional sports team. To have the ability to swap out medallions for your favorite sports team would take this to a whole new level of success.

We also see opportunities with the proprietary design of our screw cap in other areas, including Wine & Liquor, Medical, and laboratories.

We see our growth to be important to the community around us as most parts are made within a 25-mile radius. As we grow this will allowing other businesses we are using to grow with us, creating more jobs.

What has been the biggest challenge to creating a new venture?

Time, money and patience.

As I have mentioned my wife and I work 12 days in a row. Many of those days are twelve hours. So finding the time to do everything is very demanding. I average about 6 hours a day working on GrowlerGrips. On Saturdays when we vend at brew fests they are at least 12 hour days. Then Sunday another 4 hours repacking the trailer with supplies and cleaning our booth display having it ready to go the next time.

It is very costly to start up a small business like ours as well. Because it is an invention you need R&D capital. You need money to produce, advertise your product. Money for patent fees, lawyer fees, accounting fees, office supplies, storage fees, website fees and the list goes on.

Being that we have a new product to the market we have to introduce the GrowlerGasket to the public and educate them on the problem our product solves. This will take a long time years no doubt until it is finally out there. At the tender age of 59, that feels like an eternity some days. I have no doubt we will be successful….it is just when?

What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself?

BE PATIENT!!

The success stories of the small business on Shark Tank are rare. Don’t get caught up in having to turn a profit the first year or two. It takes time and hard to work to be successful. Don’t beat yourself up too much. You know you have a great product, keep grinding it out and success will come.

Tell me about your biggest surprise or lesson learned as an entrepreneur?

I did not know how much I did not know!

How hard could it be to start your own business, right? Pick a name, get a tax identity, make your product and start making money it’s just that simple. So I thought. No wonder 90% of small businesses fail. The legal aspects of starting a small business can be overwhelming for a person just starting out. It is all the things that I was naive too. Like how much lawyers can cost. Like having a big business uses their power and money to shut me down.

My original product, the GrowlerGrip, was a problem almost from the start. We just started selling in March of 2015. We then set up a website the following month. Three weeks later we received a cease and desist letter from the company who makes the German style growlers. I immediately contacted my lawyer who informed me I was doing nothing wrong. I can make a replacement handle that fits their growler. It is no different than making a different windshield wiper blade than the stock one that comes with a car. We communicated with the company though lawyers for over a year. I offered to fly to Germany and offered them royalties or a percentage of the business. They wanted no part. They took us to court knowing we did not have $100,000 to fight them, even though their claims were false. I learned how tough it is for the little guy starting out. How big business wants to control it all and some lawyers are not always looking out for your best interest.

What question did I miss? What else should I know about you?

I am very determined. Many professional people have told me 95% of entrepreneurs would have given up after the unfair lawsuit. Truthfully it has made me stronger and given me even more determination to become a successful company.


10/27/17

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